You want your employees to become better health care consumers. To use preventative care measures, to choose urgent care over emergency room visits when appropriate, to consider the options when scheduling a test or procedure, to choose generic prescriptions when possible….you want them to make more informed health decisions.
But how can they do these things if they don’t understand basic health information and services? They can’t make smarter health care decisions until they understand the terms.
Employees can’t become better health care consumers without health literacy!
As defined by the Affordable Care Act, health literacy is “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”
You see the word “literacy” and think reading. But it is not just about being able to read. Health literacy has to do with the ability to apply a variety of skills in a health situation – reading, analytical, listening, critical thinking, and decision-making skills.
What are some examples? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests numerous situations in which health literacy affects people:
- An individual’s ability to navigate the health care system, including filling out complex forms and locating providers.
- The ability to engage in self-care and chronic disease management. Often misinformation or the lack of knowledge about the body and the nature/cause of disaster can hinder people from understanding the relationship between lifestyle factors and various health outcomes.
- Numeracy skills such as measuring medications, understanding nutrition labels, calculating blood sugar levels, and even choosing between health plans or prescription drug coverage.
- And even the ability to share health history with providers.
As the National Institutes of Health points out: “Everyone, no matter how educated, is at risk for misunderstanding health information if the issue is emotionally charged or complex.”
Think about it. The science of medicine is constantly evolving. Even if you are highly educated, that doesn’t mean you understand the ins and outs of a particular specialty of medicine or have been able to keep up with all the technological advances. Or what if you’re receiving a diagnosis for the first time? Your emotions may take over and prevent you from retaining the details shared about your condition and treatment options.
Then consider all the changes that have been occurring in our health care system in recent years. It can confuse individuals, regardless of how educated they are.
The Impact Of Low Health Literacy
Low health literacy has been connected to various poor health outcomes. Less use of preventative measures such as mammograms and vaccinations. Poor management of chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Higher rates of hospitalization. Greater risk of medication misuse. All of which can lead to increased costs and poorer health.
How Can You Help Your Employees Develop Health Literacy?
Regardless of education level, health literacy is an important concept to consider. If you want your employees to make smarter health care choices, then you should be helping to improve their health literacy.
There are efforts going on within health care organizations to assist with the promotion of health literacy. But as employers encouraging health care consumerism, consider the following methods to improve health literacy:
- Make your communications clear and simple.
- Provide FAQs or Q&A on choosing health insurance plans, various health topics, and make smart health care choices.
- Share a glossary of health and/or insurance terms.
- Offer a patient advocacy service to help provide employees with credible information on the cost and quality of health care purchases
Remember, without health literacy, your employees will not be able to make informed, smart health care decisions. Make an effort to promote health literacy in your employee benefits communications efforts.